Chris Blunkell

My photo

I'm married to Claire and together, with our son Lewis, we live in Seasalter - just outside Whitstable, Kent, in the south east of England.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Time to redesign coastal policy

Suddenly politicians are interested in flooding and the threat to homes; predictably, it has taken something akin to disaster to make this happen. The flooding of Somerset Levels and elsewhere has been pitched as a tragedy, with great play made of relief efforts. These are, of course, welcome, and the plaudits for all working on the relief effort are richly deserved. 

However, this does obscure the fact that for nearly a decade now coastal policy has decreed that some settlements should be defended and others allowed to become more vulnerable, and even lost, under policies of managed realignment. This is not a problem per se - it would undoubtedly be folly to try to defend every inch of coast from the sea. The benefits of realignment lie in a more naturally functioning and, to use a policy  term 'sustainable' coastline. The problem is that government has no interest whatsoever in the sustainability of the lives and livelihoods of people who live in such locations. Homes are lost uncompensated under current government policy, and it doesn't take great imagination to think through the effects of such a loss for most people.

We have seen great outpourings of sympathy from government figures over the last couple of weeks for those affected by flooding, but the stark fact is that government is content with leaving some people especially vulnerable. Environment Agency figures that I have seen predict the loss of around 3,500 homes in the longer term if the median sea level rise predictions should turn out to be accurate.

During the storm surge in early December, I was struck by contrasting TV news images of, on the one hand, the Thames Barrier closing to protect the people of London and, on the other, non-Londoners being moved from their houses by people in hi-viz jackets. Both are responses to the same threat, but the difference is quite plain - expensive defence for some (and a new Thames Barrier already in the works), and who knows what for others.

Coastal policy must be resdesigned - not necessarily from scratch, but with a radical remodelling of the social justice aspects. It is indefensible that, by an accident of geography, the London dweller is protected from the state purse, whilst others are left to their own devices. If areas must be lost, then a government for which money is apparently no object should be able to cushion the effects for those involved.